Having a hard time deciding whether it’s worth your time or money to take a short flight? There can be instances when it makes sense to fly instead of taking the train, driving, or using another mode of transit—and times when it doesn’t. To help you get a clearer picture of the differences, we’ll look at some of the shortest airline routes and why you may or may not want to book a ticket.
Flying Short Domestic Airline Routes
Whether you fly or take ground transit, don’t forget to take “incidental delays” into account. These include transit time to the airport, clearing airport security, boarding/deboarding, and baggage handling, assuming your flight is on time. If you drive, you will need to account for gas, vehicle wear and tear, and parking costs. When a family member or friend is willing to drive the distance, consider their time as well. In addition, whether you decide to drive, fly, take a train, or sail on a boat, using a travel credit card can help you earn points/miles for your purchases.
Let’s look at when and why it makes sense to book a connecting flight—or not.
Philadelphia to Allentown, PA (60 driving miles)
One route that most likely won’t make sense to fly because of the plane ticket cost is this one. A one-way ticket from Philadelphia (PHL) to Allentown (ABE) costs around $450. It takes 46 minutes to get from one airport gate to the other airport gate. That flight time is just long enough to put the wheels up but not enough time for in-flight beverages and snacks.
Alternatively, the driving distance is 60 miles and takes about 90 minutes in normal driving conditions.
San Francisco to Santa Rosa, CA (82 driving miles)
The route between San Francisco (SFO) and Santa Rosa (STS) holds the title of being the shortest commercial airline route within the United States. The entire flight duration, including taxi, is 45 minutes. You are actually only in the air for 16 minutes. It can take at least 90 minutes to drive this stretch with normal traffic.
SkyWest partners with United Airlines to offer daily service. However, this route only operates once daily in each direction. For 2020, it departs from San Francisco around 10:00 pm and from Santa Rosa at 6:00 am. Alternatively, you can rent a private plane through Linear Air Taxi. However, it will cost a lot more than flying commercial. For example, a roundtrip flight with United costs $377 on average. A roundtrip flight with your own private plane costs $3,307+.
If you’re okay with flying a red-eye to visit California Wine Country, this route can be worth it. Otherwise, you’re better off driving it.
Detroit to Lansing, MI (90 driving miles)
The shortest Delta Air Lines flight just might be from Detroit (DTW) to Lansing, Michigan (LAN). This route’s official flight time is 48 minutes. One-way tickets usually start around $120. You can drive this 90-mile stretch in approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Milwaukee to Chicago (92 driving miles)
Milwaukee (MKE) to Chicago (ORD) is another short-distance option where Amtrak or driving can be cheaper. But if you’re flying American Airlines or United Airlines, this route can be part of a longer itinerary in the event of delays. On the other hand, you don’t have to try battling Chicago rush hour traffic or the winter weather if you choose to fly.
One-way basic economy flights are approximately $152. An Amtrak ticket is around $25.
Houston to College Station, TX (95 driving miles)
If you’re traveling to College Station to be the “12th man” at a Texas A&M home game, your two options are driving 95 miles or flying. You will most likely fly into College Station from Houston. As Houston is one of America’s largest cities, flying can be less stressful than driving.
Phoenix to Tucson, AZ (117 driving miles)
Phoenix (PHX) to Tucson (TUS) on American Airlines is another route that you can probably drive as quickly as you fly. Flight time is 44 minutes plus boarding and deboarding. This route is reasonably priced with a one-way flight costing $135 on average for a basic economy ticket.
The drive time is 1 hour 48 minutes or 117 driving miles. This route can be more desirable in the winter months. If you fly during the summer, note that there might be baggage and pet travel restrictions due to the oppressive summer heat.
Los Angeles to San Diego (120 driving miles)
Navigating Los Angeles by car can be a headache. Although you can drive from L.A. to San Diego in about 2 hours 30 minutes, a direct flight from LAX to SAN is 50 minutes. American, United, and Southwest Airlines all serve this route.
If you’re planning on earning the Southwest Airlines Companion Pass by flying 100 one-way revenue flights, this option can be worth it. Flying can also be worth it when you don’t want to drive or ride Amtrak.
Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia (150 driving miles)
Flying between the Washington D.C. (DCA) to Philadelphia (PHL) is 150 miles. From Baltimore/Washington International (BWI), the driving distance is 113 miles. A one-way flight lasts 52 minutes and costs approximately $390 on a legacy airline like American. Though, you might be able to fly a discount airline like Spirit for around $119 for a base fare.
Another option is taking Amtrak for approximately $40 in economy for a 1 hour and 52 minutes ride. However, you must determine if you can travel between Union Station and Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station.
Pro tip: You’ll find it ultra-convenient that Hipmunk includes Amtrak train trips alongside flight results on routes where Amtrak provides service, taking the work out of comparing your travel options.
If you’re planning to visit multiple Hawaiian islands on your next vacation, flying is your only option for most island hops. Most flights are one hour or less and departures occur multiple times each day.
The only regular commercial ferry routes are between the islands of Maui and Lanai or Maui and Molokai.
When the Shortest Airline Routes Make Sense
Short flight routes can make the most sense when you must transfer through a major airport to reach your final destination from a smaller airport. For example, there are no direct flights from Knoxville, TN (TYS) to Milwaukee, WI (MKE). Your best connection option might be through Chicago O’Hare (ORD).
Here’s when flying (versus driving or taking a train) makes sense:
- You can’t fly direct to your final destination
- The flight helps you qualify for elite airline loyalty status
- Traffic delays are longer than the flight time and clearing airport security
- Driving and airport parking costs are more expensive than the plane ticket
- You don’t need the flexibility that comes with driving your own vehicle
When the Shortest Airline Routes Don’t Make Sense
Flying short domestic airline routes can be less stressful than driving or taking the train. But you will also need to consider the time and cost of your different travel options. Driving or train travel is a clear way to avoid airport hassles and stresses. For more flexibility, it can also be worth driving or taking the train instead of flying. Ground transportation can also be a better option when the plane ticket costs are similar to a long-haul flight.
Here’s when it doesn’t make sense to fly:
- Traffic congestion rarely happens and you can easily drive the route
- Long airport security wait times offset the short flight time
- You need the flexibility of driving your own vehicle
- The flight doesn’t offer in-flight Wi-Fi which you may need to work
- You’re trying to be more conscious of your carbon footprint
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by Hipmunk. The author may include references to products from advertisers. For an explanation of this contributor’s advertising disclosure, please click here.
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